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Just How Important is Non-verbal Communication?

For decades, non-verbal communication has been lauded as an important part of establishing connection and understanding with others. Now a new study suggests non-verbals aren’t as key as we think.

If you want to establish connection and build understanding, it’s probably more important to converse and ask questions than try to convey your intentions with body language, according to a new study from the University of Texas.

The study, which examined how people “get in synch” linguistically, concluded that pairs of strangers achieved higher levels of mutual understanding when they exchanged more words with each other, acknowledged each other, and asked more questions than pairs who relied more on non-verbal cues.

Researcher and psychologist William Ickes says,

Beginning in the 1970s, many researchers touted the power of non-verbal communication in creating first impressions and connecting with others.

Our research indicates that the exchange of words in conversation is all that is really needed for the development of common-ground understanding in initial, unstructured interactions.”

Nothing in the research suggests that non-verbal cues have no merit, just that words may be all you really need.

As you wait at the conference room table for your next negotiation, or sit down on the couch to broach a difficult conversation with a loved one, this study suggests you can free up some working memory for the important task ahead by letting go of the mental reminders to sit or gesture in certain ways.

                        author

Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at https://tammylenski.com/archives/… MORE >

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